The Medan District Court in North Sumatra sentenced Meiliana, 44, to 18 months in prison on Tuesday (21/08) for insulting Islam. (Antara Photo/Irsan Mulyadi)

Blasphemy Conviction Against Buddhist Woman Seen as Threat to Freedom of Expression


AUGUST 22, 2018

Jakarta. The executive board of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world's largest independent Muslim organization, said complaints about the volume of a mosque's loudspeakers should not be considered blasphemy, after the Medan District Court in North Sumatra sentenced an Indonesian woman of Chinese descent to 18 months in prison for insulting Islam.

"I don't think a complaint about the volume of a mosque's speakers is an expression of hate or hostility towards a certain group or religion," Robikin Emhas, the board's head of legal affairs and human rights, said in a statement on Tuesday (21/08), as reported by state-run news agency Antara.

Meiliana, 44, was found guilty of blasphemy for saying that the Islamic call to prayer coming from a mosque near her home was too loud and that it hurt her ears, when she asked for the volume to be turned down.

She is a Buddhist residing in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra.

The incident triggered a mass riot in the area in 2016, when angry mobs burned down and damaged several Buddhist monasteries and temples.

"I hope officers of the law do not use the blasphemy law as an instrument to suppress freedom of expression," Robikin said.

Amnesty International Indonesia called the court's decision "ludicrous" and a "flagrant violation" of the freedom of expression.

"A higher court in North Sumatra must reverse this injustice by quashing Meiliana's sentence and ensuring her immediate and unconditional release," Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said in a statement.

He added that the court's decision is a prime example of the increasingly arbitrary and repressive application of the blasphemy law.

Human Rights Watch meanwhile said this archaic law has been used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities and traditional religions Indonesia.

Meiliana is the latest person prosecuted under this law. One of the most high-profile cases involved former Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison in May last year for quoting a verse from the Koran.